Tigers Burning Bright: Chiang Mai Rugby

 |  October 27, 2011

Rugby is never going to be on the TAT brochure. Sure, many of us have burned up with rugby fever over the past two months of Rugby World Cup exhilaration, but while the occasional roar from the UN Irish Pub or The Red Lion may have caused a few heads to turn as they walked past, the fourth largest international sporting event in the world – after the FIFA World Cup, Olympics and Tour de France – has hardly caused a ripple in Thailand’s busy social calendar.

But for the twenty-odd Thai rugby players in Chiang Mai, this sport is something they are passionate about, and they want to get us all excited too.

In 2004 there were small pockets of rugby being played; Chiang Mai University had a small side, Prince Royal’s School had a team and occasionally groups of expats would get together to play together or against the Thai sides. It was pretty small stuff and once graduated, most players had nowhere to continue playing. It was a dead-end sport.

So, a couple of rugby players approached Sandy Cullen of the UN Irish Pub, long known for its sporty pulse, and asked whether he would mind stepping in to coordinate and push rugby in Chiang Mai. A team was formed, the Suas (soon to be changed to Tigers, after the Thai players realised the septic connotation), and the UN Irish Pub has been a sponsor and promoter of it ever since. “Initially we had many expat players, teachers mainly,” said Cullen about the early years of the Suas, “but they have mostly left now. So, we have about 20-25 Thai players mainly playing in the team. A couple of expats join in once in a while, though some are getting a bit old.”

The Suas have, over the years, welcomed many touring sides, and while budget is tight, have managed to go on a few tours themselves, having attended the Bangkok 7s every year since 2004 and even making it to the finals last year, as well as joining the Pattaya 10s as financing allows.

“We don’t do the training, well, we do help train for senior players pre-tournament,” continued Sandy, “but the kids are very lucky to have Vinai Sucharit, head of the sports at Prince Royal’s College, who is a great coach and is dedicated to their rugby future as well as the development of rugby in Chiang Mai. As a matter of fact, some of the guys are now being picked to join the national team, and two were chosen to represent Thailand in Japan last year…unfortunately the tsunami happened, so the tour didn’t.”

Chiang Mai Rugby Tens 2011

If we have managed to keep your interest, then you may even be tempted to experience some rugby yourself. For the second year, the International Chiang Mai Rugby Tens will be held at Prince Royal’s College, hosted by the Suas/Tigers. Last year international was a tad of a stretch, though one team did come all the way from Russia.

2011’s tournament promises to be bigger and better. So far 12 teams have confirmed, with teams coming from Sri Lanka, Australia and two teams from South Africa (the Russian team is in the finals of Russia’s second division, and have regrettably just pulled out).

There will be great barbeque food and all sorts of non- and alcoholic refreshments provided by sponsor, the UN Irish Pub. Spectator stands are provided in the shade, and for those who wish, to allow for basking in the sun.

Tens games are very different to what you see on television. Since there are only ten players on the vast field, players tend to have to be faster and more agile. This makes for really exciting viewing, especially since games only last 15 minutes (seven minutes a side with a minute’s rest in between). Each team will end up playing three to four games a day starting from an eminently sensible 11.30 a.m. and ending just in time for that sunset beer at 5 p.m.

Families can come along as there is plenty of space to picnic or frolic in the fields, rugby virgins will find plenty of Citylife staff on hand, since we are a sponsor, who will be happy to explain the game to you, while rugby fans can enjoy some mid-level rugby of surprising caliber and frankly a great day out can be had by all.

12th and 13th of November should now be scheduled in your calendar as a weekend of rugby and outdoor extravaganza. There is no entrance fee. The game is held at The Rugby Field, Prince Royal’s College.